- Chuck Utech
McLeod Center – Northern Iowa Panthers
Photos by Chuck Utech and James Hilchen, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.29
McLeod Center 2501 Hudson Rd. Cedar Falls, IA 50614
Northern Iowa Panthers website
Year Opened: 2006
The University of Northern Iowa (UNI) is sometimes overshadowed by the University of Iowa and Iowa State University. The Panthers have called 7,018 seat McLeod Center home since 2006 and the experience stands on its own. Prior to 2006, the adjacent UNI DOME was the home of UNI hoops action. While the Dome could provide larger crowds (it is still the football stadium), it was not ideal for always viewing hoops action. McLeod provides great viewing and a fan friendly atmosphere for men’s and women’s basketball, wrestling and women’s volleyball. The center has also seen concerts and other events pass through. UNI basketball has given fans teams to remember such as the Eldon Miller led 1990 squad that upset #3 seed Missouri in the first round of the NCAA tournament and the Ben Jacobson led team that went to the Sweet 16 in 2010 defeating top seeded Kansas.
Food & Beverage 3
Traditional stadium food and drinks are on the menu for the most part. Prices more than make up for it. Coke products are proudly served with sizes that range from regular ($4), large ($5) and souvenir ($6). Coffee is $3 and a bottle of water is $4. 2019 marked the first year for public beer sales in McLeod as they followed the lead from fellow Missouri Conference foe Drake that introduced it in 2018. The maximum per person on a trip is two but one can get a Busch light, Coors Light or Angry Orchard for $7. A local favorite is the Gable, by Singlespeed Brewing Co. It is a nod to Iowa legend and gold medalist in the Munich 1972 Olympic games, Dan Gable, from nearby Waterloo.
For food, Klements products are proudly served. A Dome dog is $4; brat $4.50. A walking taco is $5. Pretzels are also $4 as is a regular popcorn. A large popcorn is $5. A personal pan pizza tops out at $7.
Want to satisfy a sugar craving? There are options. Blue Bunny novelty treats are $4. Soft serve ice cream in a dish or cone is $4. A shake is $4.50. Mini donuts are also served. They run 6 for $4, 12 for $6, a big ‘ol bucket for $17.
The school colors for UNI are purple and gold. Those are prevalent throughout the experience. One enters on top and then goes into bowl seating. Up top is the wide concourse, restrooms, merchandise, concessions as well as programs. Each corner features a charging station for those needing extra battery life in their devices. In addition, there are split the pot tables where one can purchase a chance to win a portion of proceeds with the rest going to local charity. There is also a table where one can purchase a small soft basketball to then hurl down to the court later for a chance to win a gift card. This proved very popular as little basketballs were raining from the rafters.
There is a main video board over the student section. There are also smaller boards throughout for easy viewing. The crowd gets fired up as the team is introduced and the school fight song plays in conjunction.
Bleacher seating is in the corners and baseline. The corners can get a little loud as they pack up with the majority of $10 ticket sales. The sidelines feature traditional chair backs. It is an attentive and active crowd throughout the arena.
Cedar Falls is the epitome of a college town. It has a full repertoire of options to choose from. The university area has a strip called “The Hill.” It has many options for fans on game day. There is a University bookstore for souvenir hunting, some eclectic shops and tattoo parlors and of course food and beverage establishments. The Other Place or The OP as the locals call it, is a great spot for pizza and drinks.
Just past that neighborhood a few minutes away is another great option. Peppers Grill and Sports Pub on E. 18th Street can accommodate a legion of fans and all of their eating, drinking and sports needs. Peppers features an excellent appetizer, pepper cheese sticks, their take on mozzarella sticks. Try with both ranch and marinara. The staff at all of the local establishments are quite friendly, hospitable and provide a fun game day experience before and after.
For an added treat, visit the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum. This museum features everything a sports fan could want. It is a treasure trove of knowledge and memorabilia. It also features an amazing mural of a young Abraham Lincoln being challenged to a wrestling match. There are displays of icons such as Dave Schulz and Cael Sanderson, and Frank Gotch.
Fans are into it. They are knowledgeable and support the home team. There was some tailgating even on a cold winter day prior to game time. The band and student sections are engaged from opening tip until final buzzer. The fans stand at the beginning of the game and at the start of the 2nd half and do not sit until the opposing team scores.
Cedar Falls is located in the northeast quadrant of the state of Iowa. It is about 2 hours northeast of Des Moines and about 90 minutes north and west from Iowa City, which are on I-80. Cedar Falls is on Highway 20 which is a freeway that goes east / west across Iowa. The UNI Dome is a great landmark as one approaches and the McLeod Center is next door. To the immediate west is parking for season ticket holders and for special access. Free parking is across the street, to the south. Concourses are wide and lines are short. Even prior to tip with 7,000 filling the center, the ability to get around is not too difficult.
Return on Investment 5
Ticket prices run from $10-$40. $10 tickets scream great return and feature excellent views still. If one takes that, the fair cost of concessions, a souvenir and a trip to Cedar Falls into consideration, a family outing can be had at both a reasonable expense and with maximum enjoyment.
An extra point goes to the Eldon Miller banner as well as all the banners hanging from the rafters. Miller’s efforts helped put UNI on the map and are celebrated inside. In the future, one could expect to see Coach Jacobson there as well.
An extra point to the full color, informative and free program available as one comes in.
An extra point goes to the staff. They are knowledgeable, courteous and more than happy to assist anyone.
An extra point goes to the arena for embracing alcohol sales but doing it in a very conscientious manner. The staff is professional and allows adults to make appropriate decisions.
A trip to Cedar Falls to see a Missouri Valley Conference basketball game can be rewarding. With the 2018 trip to the Final Four by Loyola of Chicago, “Hoosiers” images were conjured for folks dreaming of the smaller school defeating large universities. The McLeod Center houses those dreams and passionately puts them on display.